Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a home run off Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corey Knebel in the eighth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
Fred Vuich
September 11, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) Not even the iconic signal and the familiar face it summoned could save the Pittsburgh Pirates from a villain doing its best to put a cramp in an otherwise compelling summer.

A.J. Burnett returned from a lengthy stay on the disabled list and settled down from a bumpy start to put together five encouraging innings but the Pirates couldn't take advantage in a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in 13 innings on Thursday night.

With several buildings across the Allegheny River from PNC Park sporting neon green Batman signs - Burnett's comic book hero of choice - the 38-year-old gave up three first-inning runs in his first start since July 30. He settled down over the final four frames and insisted he felt fine after missing six weeks with a strained right elbow.

Burnett called the signs - a nod of respect from Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto - ''the coolest thing to happen to me in my career.'' Still, he would have preferred a win after the Pirates fell to the Brewers for the seventh straight time and refused to chalk up his early struggles to rust.

''I'm too old to get amped up over a start,'' Burnett said.

Pittsburgh eventually got Burnett off the hook. Andrew McCutchen's 22nd homer tied it in the eighth and Gregory Polanco's solo shot in the 12th off Milwaukee closer Francisco Rodriguez knotted it again.

The Brewers, however, finally put the Pirates away in the 13th while getting to Radhames Liz (1-4). Logan Shafer singled home Nevin Ashley with the go-ahead and Luis Sardinas added an insurance run. The loss by Liz ended a streak of 19 consecutive decisions by Pittsburgh relievers, the longest streak in the majors in more than a century.

''We kept battling,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ''We couldn't find the plate enough early and the game got strung out and couldn't keep them off the plate late.''

Rodriguez (1-3) got the win despite the mistake to Polanco. Kyle Lohse earned the second save of his 15-year career.

''It got to be a game where you're just scraping to get baserunners and hope you can make something happen with a baserunner,'' Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said.

Pittsburgh remained 4 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central, but in control of the wild-card race.

Hurdle said he wasn't going to put any limits on Burnett, who is retiring after the season and opted for a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow rather than surgery following three straight subpar starts after the All-Star break.

The early results were mixed. Burnett hit 91 mph on his first pitch, with Scooter Gennett taking the second and doubling to right-center field. Gennett scored on a groundout by Ryan Braun. Adam Lind then hit a sharp single and Khris Davis followed with a long homer off the batter's eye in center to stake Milwaukee to a 3-0 lead.

''Pitched it down the middle and they did what a big league hitter is supposed to do to them,'' Burnett said.

His location improved after the first and he cruised through his final four innings, giving up only a pair of walks. Burnett's three strikeouts gave him 2,487 in his career, moving him past Hall of Famer Don Drysdale and into 32nd on the all-time list.

Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta allowed two runs in six-plus innings and appeared to be in decent position to win for the fourth time in his last five decisions when reliever Will Smith struck out Polanco with the bases loaded to end the seventh to preserve a one-run lead.

McCutchen, however, pulled the Pirates even in the eighth, sending a pitch from Corey Knebel into the first row of seats in right field for the 150th homer of his career. McCutchen joined Barry Bonds as the only players in Pirates history to have 150 homers and 150 stolen bases with Pittsburgh.

The Pirates' taxed bullpen - without setup man Tony Watson and closer Mark Melancon - finally faltered.


Brewers: C Jonathan Lucroy missed his second straight game with concussion-like symptoms after being hit in the jaw by a foul tip on Tuesday. Manager Craig Counsell said the team is ''obviously going to be cautious'' while monitoring Lucroy's recovery.

Pirates: LF Starling Marte left in the 10th inning due to discomfort in his left shoulder. He was hit by a pitch from Knebel in the eighth and will be re-evaluated on Friday.


The four-game series continues on Friday when Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson (11-11, 3.86) faces Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton (8-7, 4.07). Nelson is 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA in five starts against the Pirates this season. Morton is 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA at PNC Park in 2015.

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